With how an VIP guest such as a King would be treated in the ancient India, the tradition of offering a set of eight offerings – mouth-rinsing & foot-washing water, flower, incense, light, perfume, food & music – was made. When the VIP guest was invited to a traditional Indian family, he would be offered fresh water to cleanse his hands, rinse his mouth and wash his feet. While the lamps lighted,the house would be scented with fragrant incense. He would be offered a flower garland while some sandalwood perfume would be applied on his chest to bring sweet aroma, upon entering the house. After these, he would then be seated where all the food would be brought out and the music played.
The making of offerings is an antidote to the pattern of attachment and greed. There is a material aspect to offerings, where a person offers from his or her possessions something particularly valued. Or someone may symbolically offer the totality of their possessions with the thought of bringing about benefit for all sentient beings, that the material deprivation of all beings may be remedied and their perfection of generosity take place. In general, offerings on a shrine are in a set of seven, in seven bowls, and there are specific meanings for each of the seven offerings.
Generally, from left to right, we visualize the water bowls as the sensory offerings. These are the offerings which are the traditionally given to honoured visitors in Taiwan, Bhutan, and China. Although some offerings include the seven symbolic offerings of water for drinking, water for bathing, flowers, incense, light, perfume, and food.
Making offerings is part of the practice of Buddhism, and certain offerings are apparent on every shrine that is done in the traditional way. However, these offerings are much more than a ritualistic system and form, they are a viable extension of the commitment to serve all beings.
- Drinking water – One’s negative karma committed through speech will be purified and one will obtain Buddha’s eloquent speech.
- Foot-washing water – One will purify the negative karma committed through physical acts and achieve the perfect body of a Buddha.
- Flower – The third offering is the offering of flowers to the awakened ones to beautify their surroundings, though the gift of flowers is quite unnecessary in the perfection of their Buddha realms.
- Incense – One will be able to keep pure morality which pleases all Buddhas.
- Light – It is made so that ultimately the merit of such offerings of light might cause the transcendental knowledge and experience to become manifest in all beings just as it has in the Buddhas and enlightened ones.
- Perfume – By visualizing that one is offering perfume to the Buddha’s chest, one will attain the golden complexion of the Buddha.
- Food – Ultimately, the offering is made so that beings may experience the perfect state of meditation, of samadhi, and that all beings may live on the spontaneous food of meditation.
- Music – The eighth offering is the offering of music. In one’s future lives one will be born with beautiful voice and always hear pleasant sound, especially the sound of Dharma.